Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The History of Photography

Written By Mira Divan (Grade 5)

Photography initially started with mankind’s desire to capture a moment. Earlier, the only way to have a representation of a moment on paper was to hire a painter to create a painting of that moment. Of course, this wasn’t exactly easy. First, you had to find an artist who was willing to create a portrait, then you had to source the required paints (which was tough, because you had to grind minerals to get a certain colour) and then sit still until the portrait was finished!

To tackle this problem, the first camera was invented. In the 9th century, an Arab scientist named Alhazen invented the camera obscura, which was a dark room with a single hole on one end. An image was projected through the hole and fell onto the opposite wall upside down. 

Diagram of a Camera Obscura | Image Courtesy – Camera Obscura

Centuries later, artists like Leonardo da Vinci would use this camera to understand and replicate 3-dimensional images, by tracing the image projected onto a piece of paper. Some people felt that this method was cheating since the artist wasn’t putting in the same amount of effort.

Unfortunately, it was impossible to maintain the image for a very long time, because the minute a person would remove the object being projected, the image would disappear.

Finally, in 1837, Louis Daguerre of France invented the Daguerreotype. This camera captured images on metal plates instead of walls and turned the camera from a dark room to a box. This was the first camera that was commercially sold to the public, and it became widely popular, but this camera could only produce a single photo, and no copies could be made.

A few years later, English scientist Henry Fox Talbot, invented a way to produce a paper negative.

He achieved this by taking a silver hairlight compound (a foil-like sheet that is extremely sensitive to light) and positioned it to face the object he wanted to capture. The brighter parts of the object would have more light. Since light has heat, it burned through the silver hairlight compound and created a dark spot. The parts of the object that were darker or exposed to less light would generate lesser heat which would not burn the silver sheet as much, making the spot appear brighter. Thus, the brighter spots were dark, and the darker spots appeared bright on the silver foil-like sheet. Hence the word negative.

The only problem was that the light had been reversed on the silver foil sheet (the negative), so it didn’t come out the same way as the object. To solve this, a torch, or another light source was placed in front of the negative and another silver foil sheet was placed behind it. The light from the torch would pass through the brighter spots easily, hence creating a dark spot on the foil behind. The light would not pass through the dark spots on the negative easily, hence burning the foil behind less.

The silver sheet behind the negative would then look like the actual object, producing a normal photograph.

Negative image (top) vs Normal image (bottom) | Image Courtesy – Wikipedia

A few decades after the invention of paper negatives, the American inventor George Eastman invented a flexible film, which replaced the stiff metal plates that were used to capture images. Eastman used the film in a small, portable camera.

Black and white film that developed itself was invented in 1947. This invention was used in the Polaroid Land camera. The film came out of the camera after a picture was taken and revealed an image within minutes. Back then photographers painted black and white photographs to turn them into coloured ones.

In 1963, Colour Polaroid film became available to the public. Soon after, in the 1990s, digital cameras started to appear. The digital camera recorded images as computerized files on an internal memory card instead of film. 

In 2007, Apple launched the iPhone and the smartphone age truly began. Today, every single person with a smartphone is a photographer. This has made the idea of carrying even a digital camera quite inconvenient. 

Over the years, the camera and its ability to take photographs has evolved a lot but nothing captures a moment better than the human eye. Notice closely and you will find many similarities. The lens of a camera is just like the lens of the eye, the film of the camera is just like the retina, the aperture is like the iris and the memory chip which stores the photographs is just like the human brain, capturing infinite moments every day.

Featured Image Courtesy – Unsplash


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  1. When we were young
    photography was an expensive hobby
    The film stock and the camera were very expensive beyond bounds for many
    It remained an enigma for many of us
    Am so glad that you took us through the travails of film photography
    Fast progressing towards extinction
    Am also happy to see kids trigger happy today
    Clicking away on their phones
    Digital world’s big plus
    Photographs do so many memories retain
    Photography’s accessibility to all
    Is such a boon today
    Kudos to your wonderfully written account !

  2. One more gem from the pen and brain of the irrepressible Mira Divan!
    Motivates me so much to pick up the camera, the invaluable gift of man to man, and explore ways to record the glorious fleeting moments of life with a lot of responsibility,respect, gratitude and love.


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